Translated by Matt Canty and haiducul
Before turning back to Rome in the winter of 98/99 AD, Trajan began an inspection on the Danube frontier. In the Panegirilc, published after the Dacian war by Pilinu, it is said that Traian was intimidating Decebal toprevent any offensive moves. Actually, Trajan was trying to check and strengthen the Roman legions from the Danube zone.Four of the legions were in Pannonia (I Adiutrix, XII Gemina, XIV Gemina, XV Apollinarsis) three in Moesia superior (IV Flavia, II Adiutrix, VII Claudia) and another two in Moesia inferior (I Italica, V Macedonica). Trajan was inspecting the legions, the auxilary troops and the fortifications near the borders. At the same time he was constructing or finishing roads on the south shore of the Danube. The old inscriptionTabula Traiana says that the road was made by cutting pieces of rock, and that the floor was sustained by large wooden beams. All of this was part of a planwhich preparedfor campaigns against the Dacians.
The First Dacian War.The Causes
-Trajan’s intention was toerase the shame of the Treaty between the Emperor Domitian and the Dacians.
-Pliniu refers to the lack of respect of the Dacians for the Roman Empire, proved by the raiding of the Danube Roman provinces.
-Criton claims that Decebal humiliated the Roman Empire through the peace from 89 AD. Decebal used the treaty to strengthenhis military force, accepting deserters from the Roman army.The Dacians alsostrengthened theirfortresses and built efficient war machines. The Dacian army was prepared by ex-Roman military forces, and was dependent at that time upon Roman fighting techniques because of that.
Political and military causes
-The Dacian state was becoming too powerful, and the Romans could no longer ensure the safety of the Danube frontier from the Dacians.
-Trajan had intentions to build within eastern Europe a stronger latinity, emulating the one created in western Europe by Caesar and Augustus. Dacia was to be the vanguard within the barbarian area of eastern Europe.
-Another reason was to protect the Balkan roman provinces from migrations. Trajan didn’t want the entire eastern empire to be influenced by the greek culture, and hoped to create a powerful eastern latin-speaking empire.
-The Romans wished to conquer all the civilised states close to their borders and the Dacians were a part of that collective.The Dacian state was the main civilised kingdom from eastern Europe which was still independent.
-Trajan could not launch an offensive against the Parthians before he could be sure that the threat of the Dacian state was elliminated.
-The gold, mines, and lands of the Dacians were the most important key elements in Trajan’s determination to conquer Dacia. He needed them in order to successfuly sustain another campaign that he was planning.
-The possability of conquering new territories meant that a large number of the inhabitants could benefit from the advantagesoffered by colonisation.
Decebal created a system of alliances which eventually led to an anti-roman coalition which, was made up of several Dacian, Germanic (specifically Burs and Roxolans) and Sarmatian tribes. It is documented that he fought against Trajan with an army of around 60,000 fighters, (an impressive number for the time) from which, 40,000 were Dacian, and the remaining 20,000 consisted of Germanic and Sarmatian tribes. Decebal also tried to make alliances with the Parthian tribes, even though he had no knowledge about Trajans plans to conquer theParthians.
Trajan built a big military road and fortifications, and also duga 3km channel on the right shore of the Danube in a difficult area at the Iron Gates to ensure easy passage of the Roman fleet on the Danube. He strengthened his army by bringing legions from other territories that had no military problems. The auxilery forces were strengthened with units from the non-roman population such as the Maurs, Asturs,Siriens, Palmiriens, Britanic andGermanic tribes. The Roman forces used in the first Dacian war numbered around 150,000 men.
The first military campaign commenced on 25th March 101 AD.Trajan crossed the Danube over a pontoon bridge of ships (at what is now known as Rama). At the same time, another Roman army crossed the Danube at Dierna (what is know today as Orsova), and eventually the two armies united.
At this time, the Dacian army had retreated inside their kingdom. Trajan gave up the idea of a quick attack on the capital of Sarmizegetusa, due to discovering the burs and other tribes were requesting peace with Decebal.The Roman troops began to build roads, bridges and castrums which, ensured them easy access to the provinces south of the Danube. Trajan took his troops into the north, passing through Arcidava (now Varadia) Centum Putea, and afterwards turned to the east from Berzovia (now Barzarva) through Ai(zi)zis (now Pogonis), having as their main objective Tibiscum. Here they met with the Roman troops who were coming from Dierna. From here they travelled through the Bistrita valley, through narrow and woody paths named The Iron Gates of Transylvannia. On the path of Tapae, the first battle occured between the Dacians and the Romans out of which, the Romans emerged victorious. The Dacians retreated, sending messages of peace, which were ignored.
The Romans entered inside the Hateg depression and started to conquer the Dacian fortresses from the mountains where the Gradiste, Bildaru, Costesi, Piatra Rosie fortifications were. Trajan's forces arrived near a fortress where, upon the walls stood the heads of Roman warriors on spikes from the war with the emperor Domitan. Because of the winter, Trajan was obliged to slow his advance into the Dacian kingdom, so a large part of the Roman army stayed in the Hateg area through the winter.
Decebal took advantage of the winter, attempting a diversion which, was meant to oblige the Romans to leave Dacia for good. He obtained the support of his allies for this. This diversion took place in the winter of 101/102 in the Roman province Moesia Inferior. The targeted area was large and also included Dobrogea and the north of Bulgaria. The forces sent by Decebal united with the Burs on their way down from the eastern Carpathians and with the Roxolans led by Susagus, who were heavily armed. The attackers crossed the Danube with difficulty because of the ice breaking under their weight, and as a result suffered heavy losses. They attacked the Roman fortifications which, was not heavily guarded whereupon they plundered and pillaged. Trajan took apart the units from Dacia and left from Moesia to fight the ”barbarians”. There were three clashes between the two armies, and both parties suffered losses.The most important clash happened at Adamclisi, where Trajan participated in person and in which, the Romans were victorious. In this way the Moesian diversion was destroyed.
For the consolidation of the Danube line of defence, the emperor left one Roman legion behind with their leader Laberius Maximus. At this time, Decebal was attacking the Roman troupes from Hateg, weakening them.
The third campaign took place in the spring of 102 AD when the romans attacked from four directions. One group of the romans attacked through Transylvannia from the Mures valley, the Dacian fortress from Orastie mountains. They went to Gradistea valley and conquered the fortresses one by one, eventually trying to conquer the old Dacian capital from Costesti. Another group of the romans went to the mountain pass of Vulcan to Jiu valley, and defeated the Dacians in the area of what is now known as Petrosani. The thirdgroup went to the mountain pass of the Red Tower, where the Dacians had suffered huge losses and many of them had been taken prisoner. This group united with one of Trajan’s groups, continuing the conquering of the Dacian fortress from the mountains. In order to lower the morale of the Dacians, the Romans started to burn their villages. The last group of Romans attacked from the north east, conquering a fortification which, contained Decebal’s sister. This group also joined theRomans led by Trajan which, resulted in a massive confrontation with the Dacian army near their capital Sarmizegetusa. Initially the Romans were caught offguard, but eventually won with the help of some renegade Dacian noblemen. This battle exhausted both parties and the arrival of the winter made Trajan determined to make peace with Decebal, while still making conditions tough for the Dacians.
The Peace from 102 AD
To respect the priveledges of the Senate, Traian secured an armistice with the Dacians, sending embassadors to the Senate at Rome to grant peace. The conditions of the armistice were as follows;
- Decebal had to surrender his war machines, weapons, technicians and the Roman fugitives.
- They were to destroy their fortifications,
- To give up the lands conquered by the Romans.
- To have the same friends and enemies as the Romans,
- To stop recruiting Roman soldiers.
Xiphilin said that Decebal reluctantly agreed to the conditions, and so closed the peace. In this way, Trajan weakened the Dacian defensive capabilities and their external politics disappeared. They were forced to aline with Roman actions and interests.
The Dacians destroyed their fortificationsat Piatra Rosie, Bildaru, and Sarmizagetusa Regia. The territories occupied by the Romans included a part of Hateg, the south of the Banat, the territories from Oltenia, Muntenia and south of Moldavia, which were incorporated into the Moesia provinces. The Romans also left some garrisons at serveral points in order to supervise the fufillment of the conditions of the armistice. Later on the troops retreated, but for the Dacians, the peace conditions were still harsh.
On returning to Rome in December 102 AD, Trajan recieved the title of Dacicus, and celebrated his triumph. The first coins appeared representing Trajan and his victory over the Dacians. In this way, he was trying to prepare the public opinion for a second war with the Dacians.
The secondDacian war
Trajan was beginning to strengthen his troops from the Danube and from the conquered territories. The armies from Moesia were strengthening to discourage a new diversion like the one from the winter of 102 AD.
Trajan ordered the construction of a permanent bridge over the Danube at Drobeta which, controlled several access roads through the centre of the Dacian capital. Apollodor from Damascus built between 103 and 105 AD a stone bridge of huge dimensions for ancient times. It’s length of 1135 metres was sustained by 20 rock piers, the base of each adorned with statues, while the arch stretched to 33 metres.
Xiphilin says that Decebal ordered the manufacturing of more weapons, and accepted Roman fugitives. They rebuilt the destroyed fortifications, and also constructed new ones. This plan included the fortress from Bildaru, Piatra Rosie and Costesti where the defence system was rebuilt. At the same time, Decebal sent embassadors to his neighbours to propose a big anti-roman coailition. He also attacked Iazygi, who were allies of the Romans. He rejected the Roman ultimatum, attacking in the beginning of 105 AD, using the element of suprise, despite knowing that his chances were slimmer than those of 101 AD.
The Start of the Second Dacian War
The Dacians started the war only after recieving and rejecting the Roman ultimatum. Decebal started by attacking the Roman military units from the territories that he lost in 102 AD and set up a trap for an ex-governor ofMoesia Superior and Pannonia, Cneus Pompeius Longinus. Longinus was made prisoner, and Decebal declared that he would free him on the condition that the Romans departed the territories conquered in the war against the Dacians in 102 AD. Longinus committed suicide, leaving Decebal without any bargaining power.
The Dacian offensive went late into to the winter and the spring of 105 AD before the official start of the war. Some of the territories occupied by the Romans were conquered by the Dacians. The big anti-Roman coalition from the Danube never took place, due to the fact that they had betrayed the Dacian king again.
The Senate declared war against the Dacians, and Trajan responded by gathering his troops at Drobeta, which were far more powerful than those of the first Dacian war. He also made up a war council from several generals and governors. Decebal tried, with the help of some fugitives to kill the emperor, however the fugitives were caught.
Trajan crossed the Danube on the new bridge that he had built, and went ahead slowly into the territories that he conquered in 101 and 102 AD, where he proceeded to rebuild the fortifications, the bridges and the roads. Trajan didn’t go into the territories run by Decebal, only in the spring of 106 when the big offensive began. He spent the winter in Oltenia and he began attacking on more fronts than in 102 AD, trying to catch Decebal in a trap in order to eliminate the possabilty of a diversion.
The Conquest of Sarmizegetusa
With a large military force of approximately 200,000 men the Romans attacked from five or six directions. The first column went inthrough the Cerna Valley passing through Tibiscum, and went through the iron gate of Transylvannia, through Tapae and into the Hateg depression. It then went on through the Mures Valley and went straight to Sarmizegetusa.
The second column went into Transylvannia through the Jiul Valley and through the Vulcan pass. On its way there it passed the Roman castrum from Bumbest (built during the first war) on the left side of Jiu Valley.
The third column, commanded by Trajan himself, built a road through the Olt Valley which, he protected with several powerful fortifications. He entered Transylvannia to attack from the east the Dacian fortressesin the Orastie mountains.
The fourth column left from the Roman castrums from Muntenia (built during the first Dacian war) and entered the Barsei county, through the Bratocea pass.
The fifth column also went into Transylvannia through the Bratocea pass.
The sixth column probably entered into Transylvannia from the Siret Valley through one of the passes of the Oriental Carpathians.
The first three columns had as their priority to attack the Dacian fortifications in Orastie mountains. The columns who entered from the Barsei county had come later to strengthen the troops from south west of Transylvannia.
The Roman advances were slow but systematic, building roads and fortifications at the same time. The troops that attacked in the Orastie mountains fought several bloody battles because the Dacians were trying to stop them by any means necessary. Eventually the Romans conquered the fortresses at Costesti, Blidaru and Piatra Rosie. Decebal was betrayed again by some Dacian nobles who had surrendered to the Romans. The big armies of Decebal were obliged to seal themselves inside the Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa. Sarmizegetusa Regia was situated on the Gradiste hill at 1200m and was the main objective of Trajan’s campaign.
Inwas in this way that the siege of Samizegetusa began in the summer of 106AD. The first Roman attack was repulsed so they built a parallel fortification with the Dacian one, and cut off the water supply. Part of the Dacian army surrendered due to dehydration whilst others escaped. The fortress was captured and the fortifications destroyed, along with the civil settlement and the sacred temples were burned. This was the beginning of the tragic devestation of the Dacian people and the last Roman Conquest.
The Resistance of the Dacians
The war didn’t end with the conquest anddestruction of the Dacian Capital. Decebal, along with some of his warriors, took advantage of the confusion created by the entrance of the Romans into the fortress and tried to organise a resistance. He retreated north-east, where he had some forces from the Dacian fortresses from Transylvannia. Xiphilin says that, with the help of Bicilis, the confidant of the Dacian King, the Romans discovered Dacian treasure hoarded by Decebal under the Sargetia riverbed.
Decebal tried to get to the Oriental Carpathians to continue the battle, with the help of Barstanis amd Roxolans. A detachment of the Roman calvalry followed him, and what is now known as Harghita, attacked Decebal and a small group of his guards. The Trajan column shows us a scene where Decebal kills himself at the root of an oak, cutting his neck with a curved sword (Sica).
After this, the war was limited to mopping up operationscommanded byTraijan from his camp at Porolossum. Auxilary detachments followed the fugitives and the Oriental Carpathians, taking them prisoner. Groups of Bastarns and Sarmatians along with Dacians had several clashes with the Romans, but in the two months that followed there was no resistance.
On the 11th August 106 AD the war offically ended. A military diploma discovered at Porolossum is evidence that, on that date, Dacia was in fact a Roman province. In this way, the Dacian kingdom disappeared and a new Dacia arose, controlled and organised by the Romans.